“I was in Karnataka only for 23 years and have been in Tamil Nadu for more than 40 years. I am a pure Tamil, you have made me a Tamil,” said the 66-year-old actor, who was born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in Tamil Nadu’s neighbouring Karnataka.
In no less than a vote appeal he also sought the support of his fans saying, “I will call you when there’s a war. You come then. In the old days all men would go when there was a war.”
Rajinikanth assessed that Tamil Nadu has good leaders – MK Stalin of the DMK and Anbumani Ramadoss got a special mention from the mega star – but said that the “system is rotten. We should change the system.”
In Tamil Nadu, his millions of adoring fans say Rajinikanth is the only one who can fill a political vacuum created by the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK and the frail health of her 92-year-old arch rival M Karunanidhi of the DMK.
Waiting to welcome Rajini into politics, and in the party too if he so pleases said a senior leader, is the BJP, which aims to quickly expand its influence in the state. Rajinikanth has not said yes. But he has not said no either.
There has been buzz since earlier this year that Rajinikanth could launch his own party with the support of the BJP. He has praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who met the actor at his Poes Garden residence in Chennai when he visited the Tamil Nadu capital in 2014.
The renewed frenzy over whether the star will join politics began earlier this week when he said on the first day of his meeting with fans, held after eight years, that he has no political aspirations, but “If God wills it, I will enter politics tomorrow.”
It’s happened before. In 1996 when Rajinikanth asked people not to vote for Ms Jayalalithaa, his fans thought an announcement on entering politics would follow. His campaign is seen to have cost the AIADMK that year’s assembly elections, with a DMK-led coalition winning.
But Rajini steered clear of politics, though he complains that his name has been misused by politicians and he is forced to make clear before every election that he is not joining some party or the other.
Even his films were watched closely for hints, like Baba in 2002, in which he played a carefree atheist who turns a believer and bats for an honest politician. When the man is killed, the protagonist approaches the people.
Twice his supporters have attempted to float parties to pressure their idol into entering politics. It is not uncommon for his fans across the state to frequently put up posters urging him to come and “lead” and “save” Tamil Nadu.
Other political parties have wooed him too. Only the AIADMK has stayed away, though Rajinikanth’s relationship with Ms Jayalalithaa, his Poes Garden neighbour, had improved. At a condolence meeting after her death in December last, he rued that he had “hurt” her two decades ago.